Rural elderly figures 'soaring'

The number of older people living in the English countryside is increasing at a much faster rate than the rest of the country, according to a report.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne said that the increase in the number of elderly people living in rural areas would pose "numerous urgent challengers" to the government.

The study's figures showed that 5.3 million of England's projected 5.5 million population growth in the period until 2028 will be due to the rise in the over-60s, who would be living mainly in rural districts.

Numbers of people aged 85 and over living in the countryside are predicted to treble during this period.

The researchers said that remote rural areas in particular are expected to have a 47% increase in the number of residents aged over 50 years old by 2028, compared with a 30% projected increase of this age group on a national scale.

Some rural districts, such as Berwick-upon-Tweed, West Somerset and West Dorset, are expected to have three out of five residents aged over 50 by 2028.

Two-fifths of residents living in the English countryside are currently aged over 50, with one quarter aged over 60 and one in 12 over 75. The average age of the rural population currently stands at 42, compared to 36 for urban dwellers.

The researchers said that the ageing population was largely a result of younger people moving out of the countryside for education or work or to find affordable housing, while older people moved into rural areas around retirement age.

The report suggested that the changing countryside demographics provoked a number of issues which needed to be addressed by central and local government, including rural housing - which researchers claim is inadequate to serve the ageing population - and commercial and public services, which researchers said needed to be adapted to serve a potentially less mobile population.

Rural areas also needed to attract more young people and encourage migrant workers to settle there in order to address difficulties with recruiting and retaining staff, researchers suggested.

Professor Neil Ward, director of Newcastle University's Centre for Rural Economy, said: "The ageing population also presents many opportunities for the countryside. For example, many people over 50 are highly skilled and either run businesses or are highly active in local communities.

"Ageing communities are likely to become increasingly reliant on services staffed by volunteers, such as community transport, local conservation work, neighbourhood support and running village halls. This suggests that we should be looking at how we can increase the number of volunteers and ensure their commitment - perhaps through a more professional and systematic way of recruiting them."


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